Australian consumer sentiment

The Westpac Melbourne Institute Consumer Sentiment Index declined 2.4% to 82.4 in April, from 84.4 in March.

Consumer Sentiment Index

The pessimism that has dominated the consumer mood for nearly two years now is still showing few signs of lifting. The latest Index read is well below the ‘neutral’ level of 100, meaning pessimists outnumber optimists by over 15ppts. It is also in line with the average recorded over the last 24 months, marking an extended period of bleak sentiment reads by historical standards. Indeed, outside of the deep recession of the early 1990s, this is easily the second most protracted period of deep consumer pessimism since we began surveying in the mid-1970s, with all other sentiment slumps lasting nine months or less.

Source

Westpac: Consumer sentiment sinks back towards historic lows, 9 April 2024

Rising Crude and Gold warn of inflation

Brent crude continued its advance, closing at almost $89 per barrel on Tuesday. Our target is $94 per barrel would increase inflationary pressure in the months ahead and possibly delay Fed rate cuts.

Brent Crude

Rising crude oil prices have forced cancellation of plans to restock the strategic petroleum reserve (Bloomberg). US crude and petroleum inventory (including SPR) is testing the lows from January 2023.

Crude & Petroleum Inventory

Treasury Market

10-Year Treasury yields broke resistance at 4.35% but is retracing to test the new support level. Respect would confirm an advance to test resistance at 5.0%. Failure of support is less likely but would warn of another test of 4.05%.

10-Year Treasury Yield

Federal debt at 120% of GDP, deficits of 6% of GDP, and a growing interest rate burden limit the available options.

Federal Debt/GDP

The Fed can suppress long-term interest rates but the cost — in terms of inflation — is likely to be high.

Federal Debt Interest Burden

The US is well along the path to fiscal dominance as explained in this 2023 paper from the San Francisco Fed:

Fiscal dominance refers to the possibility that the accumulation of government debt and continuing government deficits can produce increases in inflation that “dominate” central bank intentions to keep inflation low….If global real interest rates returned tomorrow to their historical average of roughly 2 percent, given the existing level of US government debt and large continuing projected deficits, the US would likely experience an immediate fiscal dominance problem. Even if interest rates remain substantially below their historical average, if projected deficits occur as predicted, there is a significant possibility of a fiscal dominance problem within the next decade.

The essence of fiscal dominance is the need for the government to fund its deficits on the margin with non-interest-bearing debts. The use of non-interest-bearing debt as a means of funding is also known as “inflation taxation.” Fiscal dominance leads governments to rely on inflation taxation by “printing money” (increasing the supply of non-interest-bearing government debt).

The rise in Gold — currently at $2270 per ounce — reflects bond market fears of an inflation rebound.

Spot Gold

The same inflation fears are also driving demand for stocks.

S&P 500

US Economy

The US economy continues to display resilience, with job openings holding steady at 8.8 million in February, exceeding unemployment by a wide margin of 2.3 million.

Job Openings & Unemployment

Light vehicle sales remain robust at a seasonally-adjusted 15.8 million annual rate in February, reflecting consumer confidence.

Light Vehicle Sales

However, heavy truck sales (41.6K in February) are trending lower — with the 6-month moving average crossing below the 12- month MA — reflecting declining business confidence.

Heavy Truck Sales

Conclusion

The economy remains robust but fears of an inflation rebound are growing, fueled by rising crude oil prices and large fiscal deficits. The odds of Fed rate cuts in the second half of the year are shrinking but there are still two possible scenarios:

  1. A sharp decline in economic activity could still prompt the Fed to cut rates despite inflationary fears. That would be a strong bear signal for stocks.
  2. Fiscal dominance, with the deliberate use of inflation as a tax in order to restore the ratio of debt-to-GDP to more sustainable levels. This involves shrinking the public debt in real terms by expanding GDP through inflation. A strong bull signal for real assets such as Gold, Stocks and Commodities.

Acknowledgements

Australian jobs & GDP

Great research note by Gareth Aird at Commbank, where he predicts that the unemployment rate in Australia will rise to 4.5% by the end of 2024.

The latest ABS report showed unemployment dropped to 3.7% in February, while the trend remained at 3.8%.

Australian Unemployment Rate

Aird says the sharp rise in employment (green below) in February is at odds with Commonwealth Bank data on the number of salary payments transferred into CBA accounts. The annual percentage change (blue) is declining steeply.

Australia: CBA Salary Payments (Number)

He says that the labor market should not be viewed in isolation but assessed against GDP data. GDP growth is falling and negative per capita GDP growth — indicating a per capita recession in the last three quarters — reinforces that the economy is growing below trend.
Australian Quarterly GDP

It is unusual to have such strong growth in employment in a slowing economy that is running well below trend. But it’s not unprecedented.

However, the trend in employment (blue) is still declining and ABS research (according to Aird) has previously shown that trend data is “superior” to seasonally-adjusted data (red).

Australian Employment Trend

Declining Seek job ads (blue below) since May ’22 also show that the tight labor market is now easing.

Australia: Seek Job Ads

Conclusion

The Australian labor market is expected to weaken in 2024, with the unemployment rate rising.

Poor employment growth is likely to drag GDP growth even lower.

Commbank project three RBA rate cuts of 25 basis points each, commencing in September 2024, based on a deteriorating employment market. Our own view is  less certain, given the potential of higher crude oil prices to increase inflationary pressures and slow RBA monetary easing.

Acknowledgements

Nuclear: “Energy security is national security”

Dr Stephen Wilson, Professor of Energy Management in the School of Mechanical & Mining Engineering at the University of Queensland, debunks the latest CSIRO Gencost report.

Conclusion

LCOE should not be taken seriously. The cost of energy rises as the percentage contribution from renewables grows.

Failure to address energy security is a national security issue.

Gold and stocks jump as Treasury yields plunge

The Fed is talking down the strong January PCE inflation result:

Feb 29 (Reuters) – “I expect things are going to be bumpy,” Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Raphael Bostic said during an interview at a banking conference in Atlanta, Georgia, after a Commerce Department report showed the core personal consumption expenditures price index rose more than 5% on an annualized basis….Bostic said his eye remains on the longer-term trends and repeated his view that he sees the U.S. central bank beginning to cut rates “in the summer time,” if the economy evolves as he expects.

Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester, speaking with Yahoo! Finance later in the day, said three rate cuts is still her baseline view…..Mester said she expects employment and wage growth to cool in coming months, easing price pressures and giving her more assurance that inflation is headed sustainably back to the Fed’s goal.

Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Austan Goolsbee also shrugged off January’s inflation data as indicative of a setback, and said he believes the disinflationary effect of last year’s supply chain improvements and immigration-fueled rise in labor supply have a “decent chance” of continuing into this year. And that, he said, means there is still scope for the U.S. economy this year to continue on what he has dubbed the “golden path” of falling inflation alongside a robust labor market and economic growth, a historically unusual pattern.

March 1 (Bloomberg) – The S&P 500 topped 5,100 — hitting its 15th record this year. Traders looked past weak economic data amid bets policymakers will be able to cut rates as soon as June. US two-year yields sank as Fed Governor Christopher Waller noted he’d like a shift in the central bank’s holdings toward a larger share of short-term Treasuries…

The 2-year yield is testing support at 4.5%.
10-Year Treasury Yield

10-Year Treasury yields broke support at 4.20%, closing at 4.18% on Friday.

10-Year Treasury Yield

The S&P 500 broke resistance at 5100 — our target from December 2023 — to make a new high at 5137. Trend Index troughs above zero flag strong buying pressure.

S&P 500

Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (IWM) closed above resistance at 205 but we expect retracement to test the new support level.

Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (IWM)

Gold

Spot Gold shot up to $2083 per ounce. We expect retracement to test support at $2060 but respect would be a strong bull signal, confirming a target of $2100.

Spot Gold

Financial Markets

Commercial bank cash assets, consisting mainly of reserve deposits at the Fed, continue their up-trend with an increase to $3.6 trillion.

Commercial Bank Cash Assets

Reverse repo (RRP) balances at the Fed declined to $570 billion as money market funds switched into higher-yielding T-Bills. The outflow cannot continue at the same rate for long and the Fed is likely to reduce the level of QT — from the current $95 billion per month — in order to offset this.

Fed Reverse Repo (RRP)

Moody’s Baa corporate bond spread fell to 1.55% — the lowest level in more than twenty years — indicating abundant liquidity in credit markets.

Moody's Baa Corporate Bond Spread

Europe

DJ Stoxx Euro 600 — the top 600 stocks in Europe — is making new highs as well.

DJ Stoxx Euro 600

Australia

In Australia, the ASX 200 broke resistance at its previous high of 7700, offering a target of 8000.

ASX 200

Crude Oil & Commodities

Nymex light crude is testing resistance at $80 per barrel. Breakout would confirm a fresh advance, with a target of $90.

Nymex Light Crude

Brent crude is also testing resistance at $83 per barrel. Narrow consolidation is a bullish sign (in an up-trend) and breakout would offer a target of $93.

Brent Crude

Copper continues to test resistance at $8500 per metric ton despite weak manufacturing activity in China.

Copper

China Beige Book

Conclusion

The bond market is getting excited about rate cuts around mid-year after plenty of dovish guidance from Fed officials. Ten-year Treasury yields broke support at 4.2%, warning of a decline to test primary support at 3.8%, but retracement is likely to test the new resistance level.

Strong growth in average hourly earnings, CPI and PCE inflation in January, warn that early rate cuts would be premature. Investors are piling into real assets as a hedge against an expected resurgence of inflation.

Stock indices broke to new highs, including the S&P 500, DJ Stoxx Euro 600, and the ASX 200 in Australia.

Gold jumped to $2083 per ounce. Retracement that respects support at $2060 would confirm an advance to $2100 per ounce.

Crude oil threatens a breakout that would likely see a $10 rise in the price per barrel, increasing expectations of a sharp rebound in inflation.

The Fed is under pressure to support the Treasury market, lowering long-term yields to reduce rising debt servicing costs for the US Treasury. Latest CBO projections show how interest servicing costs (pink) are likely to expand deficits in the years ahead.

CBO: Budget Deficit (% of GDP)Treasury debt held by the public is projected to rise to a precarious 160% of GDP by 2050.

CBO: Debt/GDP

As we mentioned in a recent post, the only way to solve this is through high inflation — which would expand GDP relative to nominal debt — and negative real interest rates.

Our long-term outlook is overweight real assets — stocks, Gold, critical materials, and industrial real estate — and underweight long-duration financial assets like USTs.

Acknowledgements

Australian CPI falls but no rate cuts in sight

Quarterly CPI fell to 4.1% for the 12 months to December, while the trimmed mean is not far behind at 4.2%.

CPI & Trimmed Mean

Household rent increases remain strong, however, boosted by a surge in immigration.

CPI - Rents

Conclusion

Inflation, apart from rents is generally falling as the economy slows. But the RBA is unlikely to cut rates soon unless we see a sharp contraction in household consumption.

Warwick McKibbin

ASX 200 tests support

The ASX 200 retreated from resistance at the high of 7600 and is now testing support at 7400. Breach would warn of a correction to test primary support at 6750.

ASX 200

The Financials Index has similarly retreated from resistance at 6800. Reversal below 6650 would warn of a correction.

ASX 200 Financials

The A-REIT Index would likewise warn of a correction to test 1200 if support at 1440 is breached. The recent rally was in response to falling long-term bond yields.

ASX 200 REITs

The correction in yields is secondary in nature and is unlikely to reverse the long-term up-trend. Further increases in long-term yields are expected to weaken A-REITs.

10-Year AGB Yield

Healthcare also rallied strongly in the past two months but could reverse if long-term bond yields strengthen.

ASX 200 Healthcare

Consumer Staples are in a strong down-trend. Breach of support at 11500 would warn of another decline.

ASX 200 Staples

Discretionary has surprised to the upside, breaking resistance at 3200. A Trend Index trough at zero indicates buying pressure. Retracement that respects the new support level would signal a further advance.

ASX 200 Discretionary

Energy rallied to test resistance at 11000 but a Trend Index peak below zero warns of selling pressure. Another test of primary support at 10000 is likely.

ASX 200 Energy

The All Ordinaries Gold Index fell sharply as the US Dollar strengthened. Follow-through below 6500 would warn of another test of support at 6000.

All Ordinaries Gold Index

The ASX 300 Metals & Mining Index is falling sharply as China’s recovery falters. Another test of primary support at 5600 is likely.

ASX 300 Metals & Mining

China

Rate cuts and measures to stimulate the Chinese economy have been modest as the PBOC is trying to protect the Yuan from further depreciation against the US Dollar.

ASX 200 Discretionary

The result is slowing growth and deflation as weak demand persists.

China & India Inflation

Conclusion

Falling long-term bond yields have boosted Financials, REITs, Health Care and Consumer Discretionary sectors but the correction in yields is secondary and we expect this to reverse in 2024.

The Metals & Mining sector is falling sharply as China struggles to overcome weak demand while at the same time protecting the Yuan from further depreciation against the Dollar.

Our overall outlook for the ASX 200 remains bearish. Breach of support at 7400 would warn of a correction to test primary support from the October 2022 low at 6750.

Santa rally: Monetary easing offsets China woes

China’s economy is struggling despite injection of moderate stimulus and efforts to support a collapsing real estate sector. Shrinking demand from China threatens a global economic contraction. G7 central banks have responded with monetary easing, causing a broad rally in stocks. This is most likely a bear market rally, with far shorter duration than a bull market.

China’s Shanghai Composite Index is testing primary support at 2900, warning of an economic contraction. The Trend Index peak near zero confirms selling pressure.

Shanghai Composite

Copper, however, has penetrated its descending trendline. Follow-through above 8500 would test resistance at $8750 per metric ton, threatening a wide double-bottom reversal with a target of $9500. Breakout above $8750 would signal global economic recovery, while reversal below $7800 would warn of a global recession.

Copper

US Stocks

The S&P 500 is testing it 2022 high at 4800, buoyed by injections of liquidity into financial markets.

S&P 500

The equal-weighted S&P 500 broke resistance at 6300, suggesting a broader rally than just the top 7 stocks. Retracement that respects the new support level would confirm the target at 6665.

S&P 500 Equal-Weighted Index ($IQX)

The Russell 2000 small caps ETF (IWM) threatens a similar breakout above 200, offering a target of 240. Breakout would confirm that investors are growing more aggressive (risk-on) and downplaying risks.

Russell 2000 Small Caps ETF (IWM)

Interest Rates

Ten-year Treasury yields are retracing to test resistance at 3.9% or 4.0%; respect is likely and would confirm the target of 3.5%.

10-Year Treasury Yield
An increase in supply of Treasury Notes will test bulls’ conviction next week:

A raft of fresh, post-Christmas government bond supply will put that comprehensive bullishness to the test. Next week, Treasury will auction $57 billion, $58 billion and $40 billion in two-, five- and seven-year notes, respectively. That’s up 20%, 15% and 7% from their average sizes over the past four monthly auctions. (Grant’s Current Yield)

The 2-year Treasury yield (purple below) is falling in anticipation of Fed rate cuts next year. A peak in the 2-year tends to lead the first rate cuts by 6 to 9 months. The signal misfired with the SVB banks crisis in March but the October peak warns of Fed rate cuts in Q2 or Q3 of 2024.
Fed Funds Rate Minimum Target & 2-Year Treasury Yield

International Stocks

The FTSE 100 is testing resistance at 7700, with a Trend Index trough at zero signaling buying pressure.

FTSE 100

The DJ Stoxx Euro 600 — reflecting the top 600 stocks in Europe — broke resistance at 470. Follow-through above 480 would test the 2022 high of 494.

DJ Euro Stoxx 600

Japan’s Nikkei 225 is testing long-term resistance at 33750. Breakout would signal a fresh primary advance but declining Trend Index peaks show a lack of commitment from buyers.

Nikkei 225 Index

The ASX 200 is testing resistance at 7600, buoyed by strong iron ore prices and falling long-term bond yields. A sharp rise in the Trend Index indicates buying pressure but reversal below 7400 would warn of a correction to test support at 7000.

ASX 200

Gold & the Dollar

The US Dollar Index respected resistance at 102.50, confirming the target at 100. Trend Index peaks below zero signal strong selling pressure.

Dollar Index

Gold broke through resistance at $2050, closing at $2053 per ounce. Expect retracement to test the new support level; respect would confirm another attempt at $2100. A falling Dollar and increased bullion demand from central banks is expected to maintain upward pressure on Gold prices.

Spot Gold

Conclusion

Stocks are rallying in response to falling long-term Treasury yields and in anticipation of Fed rate cuts next year. But falling LT Treasury yields is a medium-term rally in a long-term bear market, with LT yields expected to rise in 2025. Fed rate cuts are also a bearish sign, normally preceding a recession by several quarters — falling earnings are definitely not bullish for stocks.

Investors will need to be agile, to take advantage of the current bullishness in stocks while guarding against:

  • a trend reversal in long-term yields; and
  • signs that the broad economy is falling into recession.

Vacation

This is our last newsletter of the year as we close our office for two weeks over Christmas and the New Year.

We wish all our readers peace and goodwill over the festive season and hope for a less tumultuous year ahead.

The Magpie by Claude Monet

The Magpie by Claude Monet

Australia: Monthly CPI proving “sticky”

Australian monthly CPI fell to 4.9% for the 12 months to October while trimmed mean — the RBA’s favorite measure of underlying inflation — edged down slightly, from 5.4% in September to 5.3% in October. This supports the RBA governor’s message that services inflation may prove difficult to tame.

Australian CPI, Core CPI, and Trimmed Mean

Especially when one considers that electricity prices are measured net of government rebates and relief payments. Before adjustment, electricity prices increased by 14.0% over the past 12 months and not the 10.1% included in CPI.

Australian CPI: Electricity Prices

Monthly rent inflation also shows a surprising fall from 7.6% for the 12 months to September — to 6.6% in October. The decline of 1.0% was again due to adjustment for Commonwealth Rent Assistance payments.

Australian CPI: Dwellings & Rent

In monthly terms, Rent prices fell 0.4% in October, following a 0.3% rise in September. The fall in Rents this month was due to the remaining impact of the changes to Commonwealth Rent Assistance. From 20 September the maximum rate available for rent assistance increased by 15%, on top of the regular biannual indexation. An increase in rent assistance reduces rents for eligible tenants. Excluding the changes to rent assistance, Rents would have risen 0.7% over the month. (ABS)

Conclusion

CPI inflation is understated by adjustment for Government rebates and assistance payments. Trimmed mean CPI is proving “sticky” and may require further rate hikes from the RBA.

Acknowledgements

Westpac and CBA call a rate hike

Luci Ellis, new Chief Economist at Westpac, believes the inflation overshoot in September was enough to expect an RBA rate hike:

Last week we noted that the RBA would leave rates unchanged so long as they saw inflation coming down as they had expected. But if the data flow showed inflation declining slower than that, they would raise rates. This message was reinforced in the Governor’s first speech, on Tuesday, where she said “The Board will not hesitate to raise the cash rate further if there is a material upward revision to the outlook for inflation.” The September quarter CPI release was always going to be crucial.

Has the RBA seen enough to move? At 1.2% in the quarter, both headline and trimmed mean inflation was a little higher than the Westpac team expected (see Westpac Senior Economist Justin Smirk’s note). We assessed that it would take a significant upside surprise to induce the RBA Board to raise rates at the November meeting. A 0.1% difference might not seem like a lot, but the underlying detail was sobering.

So yes, I’ve seen enough to make my first-ever rate call to be a prediction of a hike. (Westpac)

Gareth Aird and Stephen Wu at CBA expect the RBA to raise the cash rate by 25bp (to 4.35%) on Melbourne Cup day:

The RBA has a hiking bias. And on Tuesday night, RBA Governor Bullock stated, “the Board will not hesitate to raise the cash rate further if there is a material upward revision to the outlook for inflation”.

We are not sure what constitutes a ‘material upward revision’ to the RBA’s inflation forecasts. But we consider the lift in underlying inflation over Q3 23 to be sufficiently strong for the RBA to act on their hiking bias at the upcoming Board meeting. (Commbank Research)